seth vannatta Morgan State University 1. Introduction and Origins Social Darwinism covers a set of particulars bearing a family resemblance including, but not limited to (1) the extension of evolutionary biology to social phenomena, (2) a biological explanation for the success of certain more biologically “fit” groups over others, (3) an acceptance of the use of force by the “fit” to succeed over the “unfit” in the life struggle (Hawkins 31), and (4) a preference for competition in the marketplace and a laissez-faire ideology. The serpent of Social Darwinism leaves a trail of the eugenics movement in its wake. Evidence can be found that Oliver Wendell Holmes’s judicial and non-judicial philosophy fits each of these instantiations. This paper first explains the origins of Social Darwinism. Next, it exam- ines the evidence supporting the five features of Social Darwinism in Holmes’s writings. Then it evaluates the repugnant trail of eugenics in Holmes’s Buck v. Bell decision. Last, the analysis pivots to concluding reflections on Holmes’s contested legacy and on the label of Social Darwinist. I conclude that while much explanatory work can be done situating Holmes as a man of his time, and while he is rightly characterized as the
The Pluralist – University of Illinois Press
Published: Mar 13, 2019
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